It was the result of the Gujarat election in 2012 which set the tone for the general election of 2014. After winning three consecutive elections in his home state, Narendra Modi claimed the leadership position in the BJP and finally emerged as its prime ministerial candidate at a Goa conclave in September, 2013. The tallest leader of BJP at that time, LK Advani, had resented Modi's rise and eminence in the party, but he was ignored and history moved on a different tangent.
Once again, it will be the Gujarat election this December which will define the future of Mr Modi and also forecast the 2019 general election result. Gujarat should be a cakewalk for the BJP considering the fact that two big leaders from the state are occupying the two most powerful positions in the country right now: Modi is Prime Minister and Amit Shah is BJP President. Yet, the BJP can't assume victory. There is a definite change in the air.
Since June, the tide seems to have turned. The myth about Modi being invincible is now declining. Nervousness is writ large on Modi's face. His body language is defensive. The usual flamboyance and confidence is missing. In contrast, there is definite spring in Rahul Gandhi's step. He looks more energetic and people find him more serious. He is not anymore the butt of jokes. Experts are of the opinion that "Pappu
" is in the process of arriving in national politics. The Congress is gaining traction. That has Modi worried.
In 2012, when Gujarat last voted, it was the Congress which was at the helm of national affairs. It was the ruling party but was suffering from very serious charges of corruption. The Congress government was passing through a crisis of confidence. Its popularity was at its lowest and the country was waiting for the Congress to depart. The BJP by then had survived being badly bruised in the 2009 elections. The RSS's forced engineering in the BJP had started showing results. New leaders and equations were emerging. During the Gujarat election of 2012, therefore, the Congress was a demoralised force. The BJP under Modi's leadership appeared full of promise. Now the situation has been reversed. Modi and the BJP are the ones who have to answer. They are in the government at the centre and the growing perception on the ground is that Modi made tall promises but has failed to deliver. It is the BJP who has to face double anti-incumbency unlike the last time.
In 2012, people voted for Modi. He was their chosen Chief Minister. Modi, despite all his follies, had propelled Gujarat to national recognition. He had successfully marketed the "Gujarat Model of Development". He was the darling of the rich and the urban middle class. He was the beacon of hope for industrialists. Today, he is the PM, he can't come back to the state as Chief Minister. His protege is Vijay Rupani, a failed leader with no standing of his own. Why should the people of Gujarat choose Rupani again?
In the last five years, Gujarat has gone through a marked social churning. There is a definite feeling in the populace that the economic model of development has failed to meet their aspirations. The state has belied their expectations. There is a definite mismatch between the government's pompous announcements and people's satisfaction. A few groups have definitely gained, but the rest have fallen off the curve. The anger in the Patidar community is the prime example of failed aspirations. Patidars command approximately 14% votes; politically and economically, this is the most powerful community. They were diehard BJP supporters, but now they are rebellious. The reason is simple. A few in the Patidar community have gained from political patronage, but a large section is struggling to find jobs. So the demand for reservations in government jobs arose. The BJP government mishandled the situation, tried to deal with them with an iron hand. This boomeranged and as a result, a 22-year-old became the symbol of their revolt. Hardik Patel today in Gujarat is the most celebrated political leader; his support is crucial for the Congress if it wants to emerge victorious.
Prohibition in the state has been the biggest hoax. The movie "Raees" beautifully depicts the flourishing business of illicit liquor in Gujarat. Every brand is easily available. Rural Gujarat is facing the brunt. Village after village is ruined. The biggest sufferer is the backward Kshatriya community. A young Kshatriya leader, Alpesh Thakor, has launched a movement against the drinking menace. The community is strongly supporting him in his endeavour. He has created a powerful network of Thakur youths. Now he has joined the Congress. Hardik and Alpesh are players to watch out for in the future. Hardik will swing the Patidars away from the BJP and Alpesh can bring back the traditional Kshatriya voters to the Congress.
The BJP has never cared for Dalit votes. But the beating of Dalits in Una district in the presence of the police in July, last year, has exposed the BJP government. The brutality of the violence and the apathy of the state machinery has not only deepened the fault lines in the state, but has also galvanised Dalits and the people on the margins. The unprecedented assembly of Dalits in Gandhinagar just after the Una beating was an explosion of Dalit assertion. Jignesh Mevani has emerged as their leader. From the BJP's point of view, he might not significantly contribute to the BJP downfall but he, along with Hardik and Alpesh, represents youth power and has helped create an atmosphere against the BJP in the state. These youths seemed to be bonded in their opposition to BJP. And their no-holds-barred attitude and militant articulation will surely help change the mindset of many neutral voters.
Then, the mindless implementation of demonetisation and GST has further alienated the business community. Surat, in July this year, witnessed one of the biggest rallies of traders against government policies. This community has been a traditional supporter of Modi and BJP. But today, it is deeply annoyed and on the warpath.
Modi is a smart politician. He knows that despite all the propaganda, the Congress has been consistently getting on an average 39% votes since 2002. It is also true that the BJP has been maintaining a lead of 9% over the Congress. But the study of local body elections since 2015 has been telling a different story. The Congress gained substantially in the 2015 district panchayat elections. The Congress swept 24 panchayats with 48% votes and the BJP could manage only 6 with 44% votes. Similarly, in taluka
panchayat elections, the Congress won in 134 with 46% votes and the BJP could get only 67 with 42% votes. The BJP undoubtedly managed its lead in municipalities elections but the gap of vote share has drastically reduced. In municipalities, the BJP had a lead of 18% compared to 2010 elections. But in 2015 it has come down to 5%. Similarly, in municipal corporation elections, the Congress reduced its margin of loss by 8%. In 2010, the BJP gained 52% votes, the Congress had 33%. In 2015 the BJP got 50% but the Congress jumped to 41%.
These figures are a warning signal. I agree that assembly elections are different from local body elections, and recently-held surveys are predicting BJP's victory but local bodies results and mood on the ground, clearly establishes the unease among voters with the BJP. Since 2015, demonetization and GST have added a new dimension to their woes. Modi knows that he built the momentum for the 2014 elections only after winning Gujarat. If he loses Gujarat, his strongest bastion, his most formidable fort, his home turf then it will herald a new beginning. For all reasons, Gujarat will be a turning point in his political career. If he wins Gujarat comfortably, 2019 will be easy for him, otherwise a bleak future will await him. No wonder, he is running to Gujarat every now and then. Yes, he is desperate.(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.